Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Changing the World: Faces of Rebellion in Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games Trilogy

Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Changing the World: Faces of Rebellion in Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games Trilogy

Article excerpt

Dystopian fictions occupy a prominent place in the contemporary young adult canon. The popularity of Suzanne Collins's Panem trilogy, comprising The Hunger Games (2008) and its sequels, Catching Fire (2009) and Mockingjay (2010), suggests young adults' awareness of the perilous state of the natural and political worlds in which they find themselves. Jack Zipes observes a utopian tendency of telling and writing in general that helps explain why it is we feel so compelled to create and disseminate tales and why we are enthralled by particular stories. The tales, novels, poems, and plays that incorporate this utopian tendency stem from a lack we feel in our lives, a discernible discontentment, and a yearning for a better condition or world. ("Foreword" ix)

Utopian literature's opposite number, dystopian literature, arises from that same lack, but also from a more specific response to that lack. Dystopian literature fits well with adolescent literature in a generic sense: both are literatures of the disempowered, the oppressed and repressed, those subject to and yet resisting the hegemony of their worlds--they are inherently literatures of resistance. Collins's trilogy in particular recognizes that "lack," or even the powerful presence of hunger is not enough to fuel rebellion. There must be cooperation, community, emotional more than political alliances to bring about change. Tom Moylan suggests that "[d]ystopian narrative is largely the product of the terrors of the twentieth century [...] exploitation, repression, state violence, war, genocide, disease, famine, ecocide, depression, debt, and the steady depletion of humanity" (xi). As these twentieth-century terrors are heightened in the twenty-first century with new levels of terrorism, increasing economic gaps between and within nations, and the rapid progression of climate change, these genres merge into a unique mode of narrative expression. A high proportion of these emerging authors, novels, and series are marketed to and read by adolescents who will be the inheritors of the achievements and mistakes of their elders. Suzanne Collins's Panem trilogy anoints the adolescent, embodied by sixteen-year-old protagonist Katniss Everdeen, as the primary vehicle for social change. (1) Roberta Trites invokes for the adolescent protagonist Lacan's idea of assomption, "an active assumption of responsibility for the role into which society casts her" (Trites 5-6). We may thus understand adolescent characters as strong vehicles for the element of protest inherent in dystopian fiction. The series calls readers to accept the assumptions within young adult dystopias that adolescents themselves are ripe for changing the world.

Raffaella Baccolini and Tom Moylan suggest that "recent dystopian texts are more self-reflexively critical" (8) than dystopian literature of the early to mid-twentieth century, and suggest that these "critical dystopias ... maintain a utopian impulse"; their "ambiguous, open endings ... maintain the utopian impulse within the work" (7). (2) Similarly, in their collaboration, New World Orders in Contemporary Children's Literature: Utopian Transformations (2007), Clare Bradford, Kerry Mallan, John Stephens, and Robyn McCallum point out that "almost coincident with the emergence of YA fiction, dystopian fiction had become a mode within children's literature, presenting for the first time bleak analyses of human society without promise of the euphoric ending which is usually expected in that literature" (29). While I take issue with the authors' use of "euphoric," I echo their assessment of the modal shift in publishing for children and adolescents. With the social and cultural changes occurring in most English-speaking nations in the 1960s, many adults lost their own innocent assumptions about what sort of topics were appropriate fare for young readers--social upheaval and global crisis entered the canon alongside family stories, animal stories, career stories, and accounts of intrepid young detectives. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.